Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The last time I went home teaching, I read the First Presidency message out of the December Ensign. I have to say that while I thought that post-Joseph Smith prophets weren't really very mystical, I had to change my mind when I read the message. Here's a link to it:

It's called Home for Christmas, written by Henry B. Eyring. It's about how, as many people go home to their families for Christmas, we will eventually go to our original home and our great family, in our Father's house. There's a good deal of mystical truth in that idea, but I'm not going to go into that right now. What really got me, though, was the section Blessed with his Light. It talked about how a big part of what heaven is is light, and how light is present in our heavenly home.

Now, the way Eyring uses the word "light" in the article is not typical. For one, he uses it to refer to actual instances where there was bright light, like the star of Christmas or Joseph Smith's first vision. He also uses it in a more symbolic sense, referencing abstract concepts and ideas. I can tell by the way that he uses both of these senses in the same article that he is referring to something entirely more than either of them.

So, why is light so important? Well, references to light can be found littered throughout the scriptures. These references are ubiquitous. The very first thing that God says in the entire standard works is "Let there be light!". 1 John says that God is light. When Christ was born, a bright star appeared in the eastern sky. At that same time, there were three days of light in the Americas. The three kingdoms of glory are ranked in order of how bright they are. Whenever God or his angels appears, it is with great brightness. All of these things hint at some grand principle of the universe being expressed here.

What are some aspects of light? Light is how we see things. If there were no light, we couldn't know where anything is, except by blindly stumbling around. As we do not use echolocation, light is how we can sense our environment that isn't right in front of us. And so, light is what enables us to be sure that the universe exists out of our arm's reach. And if you take it as symbolic for the other senses as well, light is what connects us from the rest of the universe. It's what enables us to be anything other than solipsistic islands.

Think of it this way: in physics, observing something is defined by measuring the trajectories of particles (or waves, they're really the same thing) that are bounced back from hitting the object being observed. That's what happens when you look at something. Light particles/waves bounce off of the object that you're looking at and go back to your eyes, and you see it. The same is true for sound as well. It also holds true for smell, as your nose detects chemical particles that come off of the object that you're smelling. Taste and touch do the same thing as well, only in extremely close quarters. And so light in this sense are those particles/waves, whatever they may be. They're what enables you to know that anything else exists, and allows you to function and participate in existence.

It is, in that sense, much the same thing as faith, as explained by Joseph Smith in his Lectures on Faith: "If men were duly to consider themselves, and turn their thoughts and reflections to the operations of their own minds, they would readily discover that it is faith, and faith only, which is the moving cause of all action in them; that without it, both mind and body would be in a state of inactivity, and all their exertions would cease, both physical and mental." And aren't they much the same thing? They're what enables you to know that anything you can't immediately experience exists.

But imagine an existence full of light. Everything was able be observed and could be seen, and all things were connected in a giant web of knowledge and glory. An entity who experiences that would be like God is described in D&C 88: "He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever" It is like how Joseph Smith described the Celestial Kingdom: a giant lens through which all existence throughout time can be observed.

But when you look at that kind of existence, I am struck by how similar it is to a universe that is just one thing (where there is no complexity or duality, only existence) Everything is connected with everything else and nothing could be described without referencing everything else. The universe would indeed be one, for it lacks divisions between different things. It is sort of like how a sphere (which has one side) is practically the same thing as a 1,000,000-sided solid. They both describe the same object.

So, I suppose the universe could be likened to beam of light. In the beginning, that's all it was: light. But then, the light was broken up into a spectrum of colors. They all represent the diversity and opposition in the universe. But as we step back, we'll begin to see that the rainbow really IS the white light, but in a different form. It is like how your computer screen, while it appears white, is really thousands of pixels of red, green and blue all shining at once.

And so, we are never really divorced from the light of heaven. It just takes a different form: a spectrum of colors. Perhaps that's why God sent us the rainbow after the flood: to give us a constant reminder that we never really leave it. It is like the primary song says: "some say that heaven is far away, but I feel it close around me as I pray". To me, the grand truth of the metaphor of light is that the Kingdom of God is here, but we just can't see it yet.

I hope you have enjoyed my blog so far. Have a merry and enlightened Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mormon Trekkies

Today I was told by a friend of mine that my blog was "less controversial" than he expected when reading the title. While I am flattered by the acceptance of my ideas that I thought would be met with resistance, I'm afraid the need for this entry to be as clear as possible trumps the need for it to be complaisant, at least this once.

The English wiki with the most entries besides Wikipedia is website called Memory Alpha (I'm not completely sure; tell me if I'm wrong) Here's a link to it: http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Portal:Main. It is the Star Trek wiki. Thousands of Star Trek nerds and nerdesses have devoted their free-time to recording every fact about the Star Trek universe in an easily accessible encyclopedia. They have detailed entries for everything, from big things like the article on Klingons, to tiny ones like the article about the SS Lakul, the Whorfin-class transport in Star Trek: Generations. Every meticulous little detail has been plotted and recorded in the wiki's vast database. But any attempt to make a database of a fictional universe is plagued by the same problem: what is canon and what is not? For something to be canon, it means that it is part of the accepted universe of that fictional work. For example, Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes would be canon, while fan-fiction would not be. It is very stereotypical of trekkies to be concerned about canon to a ridiculous degree. They will pour over a TNG (The Next Generation) episode and look for any contradictions with TOS (The Original Series) episodes. If they find one, they demand an explanation from the makers of the episode. A good example of this was seen in the hype leading up to the recently released Star Trek movie. There were rumors of things happening in it that were not canonical. J. J. Abrams, in order to avoid the entire mess, smartly set the movie in an alternate universe.

But that's beside the point. I go on this elaborate non-spiritual tangent to make a metaphor. The LDS community is a great deal like the Star Trek community. There are many Mormons who hold desperately onto their own kind of canon. It is based on the scriptures and the words of the prophets. If it is in the scriptures, it is right. If it is not in the scriptures, it is wrong. Now, there's nothing wrong with the scriptures in and of themselves. They are the prime way for mankind to learn about the things of the gospel. But this point of view takes the scriptures for what they were never meant to be: historical and scientific texts. And so the feeling is that the Garden of Eden was an actual garden in what is now Missouri (something I don't think Joseph Smith ever said), that an actual world-wide flood covered the entire earth, that all people are literally descended from Adam and Noah, and that the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old.

But, some of the adherents of this widespread opinion look at the world of science, and see that it does not match up with the world of the scriptures, if everything is explained simply by divine power. And so they begin a massive crusade of reconciliation, developing odd and complicated scientific explanations for the literal happenings in the scriptures. For example, my mom used to tell me that the reason people lived so long in biblical times was because their genes weren't "corrupted" yet. I've heard other people say how the city of Enoch must have been where the gulf of Mexico is today, because it's the only thing that doesn't fit if you put the continents together. And I've heard other people say that God did indeed create the world in 7 days, but "aged" it so that it appeared to go through billions of years of development.

And so, these Mormon Trekkies go through all kinds of elaborate and inefficient trouble to keep firm their belief that the scriptures are literally true. The canon is above all else in importance. It is irrefutable, and it trumps all debate and discussion. And in this mad pursuit of reconciliation and defense, I would say that the scriptures are divorced from their original purpose: to lead men to truth.

What is truth? Or, should I say, what is Truth? Various religions across the world, calling it Brahman, the Tao, the Monad, or God, all seem to say that there is some greater reality behind all things. Christianity and Mormonism are no different. Paul says that "we see the world through a glass darkly" in 1 Corinthians 13, and Joseph Smith describes the Celestial Kingdom in D&C 130 as a great glass globe, a Urim and Thummim, through which everything can be seen in the past,the present and the future.

I, calling again on the wisdom of Humpty Dumpty, will call the belief systems that acknowledge that the Truth exists and actively pursue it mystical traditions. Now, one of the most notable elements about the Truth is that it cannot be described, as words by their nature cannot completely describe anything, let alone the reality of the universe. As the Tao Te Ching says, "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao". And so, people who have experienced the Truth must necessarily use metaphor, simile, symbolism and stories, tuned to the experience of people's everyday life, in order to help other people understand it. However, as these stories get passed on from person to person, the delicious taste of the fruit of Truth is forgotten, and people begin to think that the stories themselves are the Truth. I will dub these story-based belief systems mythologies. A religion can have stories and not be a mythology, so long as they realize that their stories are just that: stories, used to help people understand the Truth, and aren't actually the Truth itself. As Alan Watts once said: "The menu is not the meal." A prevailing trait throughout mythologies is that their universe looks a lot like their culture, lives and immediate area. The early Mesopotamian deities were as wild and unpredictable as the Tigris and the Euphrates, while the gods of Egypt were as stable, timeless and predictable as the Nile. Most of them had a supreme deity who was king or emperor over the universe in much the same way a king or emperor on earth rules their kingdom.

I think that this is the problem we have today with Mormonism as it is commonly perceived and practiced: we treat stories that are obviously metaphors for the Truth as the Truth itself. We believe that every other belief system in the world is a corrupted version of ours. We think that the universe and reality are just bigger versions of our day-to-day lives and institutions. Many people within the church believe that in the Celestial Kingdom we will have shops and theaters and arenas and streets. We would all have our own house, and we could go visit anyone we want in their celestial house. Nothing could be further from the Truth, to make a pun. It is true that Joseph Smith sees the Celestial Kingdom as a city in D&C 137, but the actual description of the place is in passing, and is not the point of the chapter. I believe it is there to conjure up images of the divine City of God descending out of heaven in Revelation 21 (meant to contrast with the corrupt city of Babylon) and the city of Enoch, which ascended to heaven. As I mentioned earlier, Joseph Smith describes the Celestial Kingdom as a glass ball. Do we really think the celestial kingdom will be a ball made out of glass? I hope not. I'd never be able to stand up for fear of slipping. And besides, do we really think that the Celestial Kingdom is a city, or even a planet? In the eternity that we're there, we'll have more than enough time to explore ever nook and cranny to the point where there would be nothing new. The fact is, any finite representation of the Truth is bound to fail at describing it purely because of the fact that it is finite.

I suppose the Celestial Kingdom could be a giant, shiny city where we'd all go from place to place to place for eternity. I'd think it a very poorly-designed universe, but it's possible nevertheless. I feel very strongly that it is not, though. I have faith, all-pervasive and beyond my faith in anything else, that the Truth, the ultimate Truth at the heart of all things, is simple. It is not sculpted with the molding and friezes of any particular culture or religion. It is not lined with the frills and lace of theology or dogma. It is smooth. It is white. But within that whiteness is the spectrum of infinity. Everything from the tiniest cell and atom to the largest galaxy or plane to the brick on the wall at school to the idea you had yesterday is contained in its surface. But it, in its infinite grandeur, is still simple in its all-encompassing infinity. It is the screen on which the entirety of existence is projected. It is the diaphragm of the radio on which the music of the universe is played. It applies to all races, creeds and tongues. It is the common denominator of all things. Of course it is simple. It has to be.

And so, this blog will not try to do what so many other LDS scholarly works have done: cling to the canon. It will not regard stories, parables or doctrines as truth, but instead as the rod that one clings to to reach the Truth. It won't treat anything as authoritative simply because it is in the scriptures, but will try to see why the things in the scriptures are there in the first place, and try to understand what we can learn from them. To not do that, and treat the stories as literal, scientific truth, whether it actually is or not, destroys the entire purpose of stories: to help people understand great truths. So, if you seek to find a detailed almanac connecting various obscure gospel theories and doctrines to each other by coming up with yet more theories and doctrines, pick up a copy of Mormon Doctrine; don't look here. I try to keep it simple.

Alternate Genesis Translation

I was using StumbleUpon for philosophy today and I came across an interesting article. Here it is:

It says that the opening verses of Genesis should not read "God created the heavens and the earth" but that "God separated the heavens from the earth". You can read it for yourself. The translator is probably not even aware how perfectly that fits with Mormon cosmology. Don't we say that God organized the world out of unorganized matter instead of creating it?

I really like the whole separating the heaven from the earth idea. It seems to imply that the spiritual and the worldly were originally one thing (all spirit is matter, isn't it?). Going further, it also seems to imply that to be 'complete' and to return to that original state of onneness (something very mystical), we must have part of both worlds, part heavenly and part earthly (something very Mormon).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mormon Mysticism?

Let there be light! That's better. And so begins a potentially invaluable series of insights into the soul, the universe, heaven and God.

Now, to start off with, some of you may be wondering how a Mormon can also be a mystic. Mystics are all about meditating, becoming 'one with the universe' and climbing into a crypt for the rest of your life to be fed through a little hole in the wall, right? And aren't Mormons all about going to meetings, doing family home evening and being generally peppy? I think that's a gross over-generalization. Mormonism, at its heart, is mysticism pure and simple.

Now, I'm going to be using a definition of mysticism that may not be what is accepted or what you're used to. As the great Humpty-Dumpty said, "A word is exactly what I choose it to mean", so bear with me. Mysticism, at least according to me, is the practice of trying to become one with God. And Mormonism is indeed a form of that practice. And not just in the "working together" or "being a team" way. To me that interpretation negates the beauty of the idea of 'becoming one' that is found an amazing amount of times throughout the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. No, I would say that to become one in a Mormon context is to lose one's individuality to the extent that you are a part of a larger whole. A distinct part, to be sure, but a part nonetheless.

I liken it to Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians about the body of Christ: "For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?"

And so, by becoming one with God we do not lose our individuality completely, but we become part of a larger individual. We have a dual-citizenship of sorts. Aren't the cells in your body distinct organisms? As are your different organs? And in the eternal, Celestial existence, aren't we like a great body? We all know and can see everything, and so everything one of us sees, the other one sees also. Our minds are essentially the same. We could coordinate movements and think as a whole, like a body does. And also, like the different parts of the body, we would be able to each 'do our own thing', so to speak.

And so, when you look at reality this way, it becomes like like a pointillist painting. Lots of little dots of color that when placed together, spontaneously form a great vista or a stunning portrait. I hope that makes sense.

I hope you enjoy my blog, and I will enjoy writing it. And so, there was light...